Contest #99 shortlist ⭐️

57 comments

Sad Fiction Kids

TW: postpartum depression

2 am used to be the time of day that you and your friends drunkenly stumbled from the bars, propelled forward by the joy of drinking too many flights of IPA’s with eyes squinted tight from laughing too much. Surrounded by friends who had the same level of despondency as you did, the ales brightened your dispositions and gave you hope that 6 am wouldn’t feel too brutal. But now, you wake with a startle because you feel the presence of an angered spirit or your toddler, you can’t seem to tell anymore, they are one and the same. They never place their chubby fingers still laced with sticky remnants of ketchup on your arm and gently nudge you from your slumber. No, they linger quietly, mouth breathing in the edges of the shadows until you gasp loudly in a panic- “What?! What is it?! Are you okay? Did you have a bad dream?!” 

 

Your own parents said, “You’ll understand one day when you have to get up in the middle of the night and change the wet sheets.” 

 

The clock with its red LED lights blaring in your retinas reminds you that this ungodly hour is when your day starts. As the parent that the older child always wakes in the middle of the night, they come to you for the monsters that lurk under the bed waiting to grab them by the backs of their ankles, and for the shadows that cast across their rooms in a way that causes their breath to catch tight in their throats. You don’t have the energy to explain that real monsters don't hang out under kid's beds. The real monsters come in the form of working jobs that eat away at your soul every single day until they lay you off just days after you and your wife bring a new baby home. A family of three becomes a family of four and the darkness that is 2 am is a reminder that darkness only amplifies the imbalance of your amygdala. 

 

Happiness or Anxiety, which one shall you carry today? 

Only your amygdala decides, and either way, it’s a total crapshoot. 

 

“I had an accident. In my bed.”

 

Your child tries to climb into your bed, the stench of now wet, cold, urine expedites your body from the comforts of the bed you hardly find sleep in. One foot in front of the other, you move your child down the hallway to their room. With your hand placed on the curly tuft of your child's hair, you think about how you need to pick up detangler spray from the local grocer when you go again. 

 

To be so alert at this time of day feels problematic and you worry that your muscle memory might be taking notes and start waking you whether or not you want to at this time every day. You think to yourself, “Maybe I’ll just set the coffee pot to 1:45 am and embrace the suck of the day with a fresh cup of joe.” 

 

Ever since the baby came home with you from the hospital the wakeups at 2 am have increased in frequency. If memory serves you correctly this was part of the warnings from family and friends too. 

 

“Babies eat and wake without rhyme or reason.” 

“You won’t ever sleep again.”

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

 

 Older siblings subliminally schedule their own wakeups on the cusp of you falling back to sleep just moments before. Wet sheets are the bane of your existence, and the warning that the days are long comes roaring back to your brain. They are in fact so long when wet sheets are involved. Your low back protests that pulling off soiled bedsheets from a bunk bed underneath glow in the dark stars on the ceiling is a punishment fit for criminals not tired parents like yourself. 

 

Balancing on the thin metal steps of the blue bunk bed you curse the tightness of the waterproof mattress protector. The unyielding elastic snaps back up over the corner you just tried slipping it over. He laughs at the comedy of errors before him as you sweat and mutter shit under your breath over and over again.

 

“When was the last time I laughed?” you think to yourself. The thought is fleeting and you decide to forgo the mattress protector for a flat sheet draped over the mattress. Your child is old enough to not suffocate if entangled in their bedding, so there’s that. 

 

Like a choreographed dance your hand dips down into the pajama drawer all while you remove the damp top from your child's body undoing the bath you just gave him hours before all of this. Shoving the drawer shut with your foot the light on his Mr. Potato Head Clock gleams 2:48 am. Three books later, and a promise to return with a glass of water you make your way back to bed. Cries of an unsettled newborn wail through the house. The flashing numbers on the coffee pot remind you that your to-do list will never end; Buy detangler spray, program the clock on the coffee pot, and for God’s sake don’t forget to wash the wet sheets.

 

Out of habit, you turn the knob to your bedroom door with the tiniest twist, your wrists still moan at the fight between you and the mattress protector from earlier. You won’t risk causing more noise to your bungalow with 3 bedrooms and a pass-through kitchen that acts as a funnel of noise to the other end of the house. Worry of making the mortgage payment washes over you and you wonder how much of a hit you'll take if part of your 401K needs to be used.

 

Shut the door (pardon off the noise.) 

Take a breath (your partner says this helps.)

 Ask how you can help (being of service supposedly makes you feel better about yourself.)

You wanted these kids (in theory.)

 

“Here, hand her to me. I’ll feed her. You go back to sleep.” 

 

The amount of time it’ll take to feed your baby between the burpings over your shoulder, you’ve added another hour to the clock. Unpredictable at best, this is your life now and you’re barely hanging on. But baby, oh baby does your heart turn into a puree of yams and yellow carrots, soft enough for a baby to swallow when she looks up at you. It’s the one time of day your amygdala tips over into happiness if only momentarily. It’s moments like these that makes 6 am less brutal. It’s silly of you to think that you can program in a baby smile between Sesame Street and a bowl of oatmeal every time you need a shot glass of Oxytocin. The last call was at 6 am.

 

Friends ask how it’s going, and they’ll chuckle when they say, “No way you’re sleeping, look at those bags under your eyes.” 

 

They mean well. Don’t forget that they stood beside you on your wedding day and witnessed your vows and exchanges of “through sickness and health.” They've proven they want the best for you and they also like a good joke. It's probably not a good time to tell them you lost your job. The vision of pity on their faces isn't a weight you'd like to carry right now. Don’t forget that they mean well when they invite you away for 3 days at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. You think of the SPF you’d have to apply to your pale skin that hasn’t seen the sun in days and feel the burn of missing out on a life outside of parenthood. You’d rather let the day be longer somewhere else where you aren’t required to make snack plates and wipe dirty butts. 

 

It’s warm out which means you’ll head to the backyard of your bungalow and apply sunblock to your son’s shoulders and nose. Sun exposure is something you worry about all the time now, especially between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. Before kids the only acronym you had memorized was B.Y.O.B, but now it’s UVA, UVB, AAPA- and dammit what time is it socially acceptable to have a drink? A drink would make this all a little better. Just a sip or two to take away the shakes you have from surviving on adrenaline and lack of sleep. But you know one sip might lead to three or four and four leads to fights with your wife who barrages you with, “Are you ok? Do you think you’re depressed?” 

 

It’s dinner time now and the concerned look drawn on her face is so obvious, you shout irritably, "What?!" Be careful, she might catch on.

 

Tell her that you’re just fine because men always are, in truth, you will have to be, it’s what is expected. She’ll stand in the kitchen scraping the dinner dishes clean, eyeing you she’ll say, “You know you can tell me right? If you’re feeling sad.” The bags under her eyes soften, begging you to admit defeat when all you want to admit is that you’d do anything to make the day end. Tomorrow will be better, you think. 

 

Think of your wife as the barometer for your success emotionally and successfully. If she’s worried maybe you should be too. When she was pregnant you showed up by going to all of the prenatal appointments listened to the doctor dutifully when they listed the postpartum depression signs. 

 

“You’ll need to keep a close eye on her, postpartum can be unforgiving on women. Sometimes men too.”

 

Scoff, because this doctor is basically a stranger and what does he know of your mental resilience? Once in college, you stayed awake for 24 hours straight all in the name of fraternal brotherhood, maybe there was alcohol involved you can't remember. You nod and make a mental note, adding to the list; Sadness, irritability, substance abuse, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. Science argues that it should be her, what with the hormones and the lactating.

 

Evolutionary Biology has a funny way of making sure you stick around as a father to bond with your new baby. The Biologists say that men can fall into paternal postpartum depression as a way to make you stay put. Biology is making sure you don't abandon your family, but given the choice you're not so sure if you could stay on your own merit without it.

 

You kick yourself because of course there had been warnings all along, from your parents and from your friends who carried bags under their eyes like weighted carry-ons. There is no putting these bags in the overhead compartment, they must be checked in and weighed. The scale on which they sit screams in bright red that you must pay extra, for the sleepless nights and for the ballet slippers with the pink satiny ribbons and the multi-colored snack crackers dyed with vegetable extracts. The warnings you ignored have astronomical costs that cannot be written off on the year-end taxes, there is no earned income credit on starting your day at 2am.

 

It’s nearly midnight now, you're too tired to reduce your gum disease with an electric toothbrush and opt instead for your bed next to your wife. You roll over thinking you’ll confess how deeply sad you are. How you’ll be the big spoon to your wife’s little spoon and you’ll say instead something sweet like, “I’m so glad we have this life. That we have these kids. That we have each other.” These sentiments will assure your wife that you are fine, or that you will be. The wet spot of leaked milk on the sheets will stop you mid-roll. It’s been a long day you think, but that won’t stop you from getting up to put the wet sheets from your child’s room in the wash. You can mark 'wash the wet sheets,' off the list now.

June 26, 2021 00:49

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

57 comments

Kristin Neubauer
17:13 Jun 27, 2021

Oh my gosh, Shea....this was so vivid. I like kids, but everyone else's kids....I've never wanted my own and this confirms that many times over! I felt such sympathy for the poor dad (who I thought was a mom at first - good job on the reveal of that!) and kept saying to myself "no no no....it has to end"....and it didn't! It reminded me of the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan where the battle just went on and on and on .... it's so realistic and so horrible at the same time. You think "I'm just watching/reading this? What if I were ...

Reply

Shea West
17:17 Jun 27, 2021

Thank you Kristin. I just did a quick edit on it, because Anne made some really good points on the reveal and still adding some details. It's funny, I have 3 kids and I usually only care for my kids and not others HAHAHA. I don't really mean that, but I think you're picking up what I'm putting down. I will say this, these trenches do end and just move into different kinds of hard. It's something I teach new families often- Anything can be hard, but hard comes in all kinds of forms. I love that you had all of those emotions!!! Your crit...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
K. Antonio
01:02 Jul 01, 2021

I agree with Anne on this. For some reason I knew the main character was a man right off the back. Maybe because I just found it more probable (thought I'm being biased) for a man to be walking drunkenly anywhere; the IPA maybe hinted me in that direction. I do like though that the confirmation of the character's gender is held off until a certain point. I think this story is the classic example of "write what you know". I couldn't have written this story because I don't know first hand what it's like to be a parent, and yet the way you in...

Reply

Shea West
02:22 Jul 01, 2021

It's something that is said often to parents in the tone of cliche- The days are long but the years are short.....I loathe the statement, because when you're in the actual trenches of the hard parts of parenthood the obvious reply is, "No shit, all these days are long!" Can you tell I'm in a trench now? ;) I'm sorry that part made you sad! I wrote that line because as parents we reach these strange milestones like, "Okay, they won't choke on hotdogs anymore!" or "We can let them watch a PG-13 movie...it should be fine?" The main charact...

Reply

K. Antonio
02:32 Jul 01, 2021

Sometimes when I'm teaching kids I mark those milestones too. Like "oh, look, John stopped eating dirt this semester." I'm awful I know. 😂🙃

Reply

Shea West
02:33 Jul 01, 2021

AHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAH! THE BEST. You made my day! Way to go John, we're proud of you !!!

Reply

K. Antonio
13:57 Jul 02, 2021

SHEA!! CONGRATZ!

Reply

Shea West
14:30 Jul 02, 2021

😲😲 thank you!! I can't believe it!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
H L Mc Quaid
13:52 Jun 29, 2021

I'm exhausted for him! Really convincing descriptions of the events and how he reacts, and the mind-numbing, all-encompassing fatigue of being a parent to young children. A few minor things. 'IPAs' here: "too many flights of IPA’s " Do you mean cordon off the noise?: "Shut the door (pardon off the noise.) " And something that nobody is likely to care about... the amygdala. It interprets stimuli and determines whether we feel fearful about something, and what our response ought to be (freeze, flight, or fight). It doesn't (as far as I know)...

Reply

Shea West
13:57 Jun 29, 2021

Heather I love that you do care about the brain science!! I think you even helped me on a past story make an adjustment with something else similar before. I could make this adjustment, as my minimal research clearly failed me here. Thank you for the helpful critiques that always push me to get it better!!

Reply

H L Mc Quaid
14:08 Jun 29, 2021

I'd help you identify the the proper brain structures, but my knowledge of cognitive processes is most likely out-of-date, as I studied that in the early '90s, and forgot a lot. I happen to know a bit more about the amygdala, because I wrote a short story a few months back (called Fearless) about a virus that destroys it and what happens (to society) as result. Good luck with brain science research!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
T.H. Sherlock
22:47 Jul 04, 2021

Well done on being shortlisted Shea! I've seen a few comments on here saying that they could tell that this was a male perspective from the outset - they're clearly a lot smarter than me as I admit I was completely reeled in by thinking it was a woman for the first few paragraphs. I think the TW did that for me - assumptions and unconscious bias huh? It's such an important topic as so many people (myself included obviously!) focus on mothers when it comes to postnatal depression and the father often gets overlooked. Good work on highlighti...

Reply

Shea West
03:13 Jul 05, 2021

Hey thank you! I was kind hoping that TW would lead the reader to that bias. Although postpartum depression mostly effects the birthing person, there are still partners that experience this shift after the baby arrives. It's worth talking about, as no one should have to suffer in silence or shame. Thank you for you kind feedback, it's so helpful to me! I'm so glad you liked that line, can you tell I'm in the thick of parenting?? ;)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Natania Kurien
03:47 Jul 04, 2021

Wow, this was brilliant! Congratulations on the shortlist! Your writing style is beautiful and I think the use of this narrative voice was really compelling. I agree with other comments in that I like how you did not identify the main character as a man straight away. In fact, I've only ever read of female characters struggling with postpartum so I actually really appreciate the chance to read about something that I think many people might not have even known was a thing. I think you wrote about his feelings so masterfully. Great job!

Reply

Shea West
17:10 Jul 04, 2021

Thank you Natania! I'm so humbled by this shortlist win. I suppose we are our own worst critics and there is so much phenomenal talent here on Reedsy! I love that you liked the the switch of narrative perspective. I work in this field and it's something I hear and see a lot, so it felt good to write about.

Reply

Natania Kurien
07:07 Jul 05, 2021

There really is so much talent on this platform! Since joining a couple of months ago, I've spent so much time just reading other people's stories and it's been so much fun. I think it always comes through in and enriches stories when the authors write about something they're connected to and that's definitely the case here!

Reply

Shea West
19:41 Jul 05, 2021

So much talent!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Rayhan Hidayat
02:50 Jul 04, 2021

Sorry I’m late but you have my heartiest congratulations 🙂

Reply

Shea West
17:11 Jul 04, 2021

Thank you Rayhan! Your story is on my TBR pile this weekend, looking forward to it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
22:39 Jul 03, 2021

have i ever told you your writing is as beautiful as your username? ;)

Reply

Shea West
02:35 Jul 04, 2021

Thanks :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
00:34 Jul 03, 2021

"Parenting is probably the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done." -My own mom Through the lenses of the struggling father in your story: I find further, personal appreciation to this statement. :)

Reply

Shea West
03:39 Jul 03, 2021

Thank you for your insight Adaline. On those tough days it's hard to see the rewards, but when I'm well rested I know they are there ;)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Amanda Lieser
20:26 Jul 02, 2021

Oh my goodness this story was SO POWERFUL! I am so thankful you chose to write about a topic not frequently discussed in our society. I absolutely loved how you kept the gender of the main character a secret until the middle of the story. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting short listed!

Reply

Shea West
20:46 Jul 02, 2021

Thank you Amanda for you sweet praise and taking the time to read this.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
A.Dot Ram
16:54 Jul 02, 2021

I read through this again today and wanted to mention your edits. I think it reads well, being transparent upfront that this is a dad. It's not a plot twist, it's a somewhat unexpected point of view, that we now get to appreciate the whole way through for what it is, without wondering. But here's what I most appreciate about all of your writing: your brain is so full, and you share it all in a way that's raw and poignant and somehow still funny. Your voice is fantastic and only growing stronger.

Reply

Shea West
17:56 Jul 02, 2021

You were right, I was trying to be tricky and I see now that I didn't really need to do that. You are so incredibly supportive Anne. Thank you so very much.

Reply

A.Dot Ram
18:16 Jul 02, 2021

You, too. I would probably write stuff even if you were the only one who read.

Reply

Shea West
04:02 Jul 03, 2021

Well, sounds like we have a deal then. ;)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
H L Mc Quaid
16:13 Jul 02, 2021

Woo hoo! Congrats. I'm doing a little dance in celebration. 💃

Reply

Shea West
16:21 Jul 02, 2021

Heather I am too! Because my story got approved before I had a chance to make those edits you suggested!!!

Reply

H L Mc Quaid
16:45 Jul 02, 2021

ah well, they were but minor things. The important thing is your work getting recognised. :)

Reply

Shea West
17:16 Jul 02, 2021

It feels very strange. I attribute so much of it from everyone who helps me every week!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Riley Boock
22:17 Jul 01, 2021

Shea, your use of figurative language and vocabulary in this story is to die for. I don't have kids, but after reading this, I feel like I have a better understanding of the adversities of parenthood. You captured everything someone can feel in a 1k-3k word essay. You're insanely gifted!

Reply

Shea West
23:34 Jul 01, 2021

Thank you!! I've been working really hard at getting better at the whole writing thing. I'm glad you liked it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
23:18 Jun 30, 2021

Hi Shea, This story is so well-written, you really made the reader feel the stress of the main character throughout the story. I think you did a great job writing from Male point of view, that can be tricky to do well but you made it seem like a breeze. The only thing I can add is that in certain sentences could've had commas that didn't, but overall great story! I will definitely be reading more of your stories! (:

Reply

Shea West
01:50 Jul 01, 2021

Hey thanks Shannon! I work with a lot of new dads, so that perspective was fun for me to write. Looking forward to it. Thanks for reading.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Austin Diaz
09:41 Jun 30, 2021

A vivid story. As the father of two young ones, I definitely felt seen. For me the prose really picked up when you starting weaving in the discussions of paternal postpartum depression and I've been going back in forth on whether or not that should be there from the beginning? Like, I maybe want to voice to be a bit more unreliable, the father blowing off all the red flags of depression and sadness...it's only a thought. I also found myself wondering what the father does to have this language about amygdala and stuff so ready at hand. Is i...

Reply

Shea West
15:29 Jun 30, 2021

Austin first and foremost, I am so glad you felt seen. It was my hope that someone could resonate with what I wrote. I see it so often in my line of work and it's not spoken about much. Your questions about the character are great. How does he know all this stuff about the mental health? I alluded to a minor substance abuse problem when he was younger, but also the losing of his job compounds it. My mind thinks maybe he had therapy or something at one point, but perhaps didn't stick with it. I can see now that I could have added some thin...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
08:29 Jun 29, 2021

You once told me that you're a nerd for the second-person perspective, and I'm beginning to understand why with this story. It just adds so much than if it was in first or third. The emotions are on another level because of the boost from it. It feels like you're demanding, "Understand what this father is feeling by BEING the father, reader!" which made it more powerful. Some stories are so good that I want to read them many times. Some stories are so good that I never want to read them a second time because of the magic that's with reading ...

Reply

Shea West
13:36 Jun 29, 2021

W. W. Your comment is so thoughtful and flattering, thank you times a million! You're right though, I was hopeful that the demand of inserting oneself as the father came across.

Reply

06:40 Jun 30, 2021

You're welcome! I look forward to reading more of your work.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Emily Thompson
22:43 Jun 28, 2021

I'm not a parent (yet) but, being an only child, I've always been extraordinarily close with my family. As I've gotten older and my friends start their own "Big Kid Lives," as we call them, I've started realizing just how much of themselves my own parents gave up in order to love me and put me first. It's a difficult conclusion to come to, I think, to know that the people I know as "Momma and Daddy" were also their own people, and ARE their own people, even though to me they're just mom and dad. I think you encapsulated that absolutely per...

Reply

Shea West
22:58 Jun 28, 2021

I love this sentiment. I griped yesterday to my husband, 'I don't wanna be an adult right now, it's too hard!' Big Kid Lives is a great way to frame it, as there is a removal of who we used to be in some capacity. You are right though, it's something I witness often Emily. Men are not encouraged to share or be demonstrative in these struggles. My sons get it from me and their dad all the time, it's something we hope to foster in them that feelings are healthy and normal and there's no shame in vulnerability. I appreciate your PS...it's h...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Beth Connor
07:11 Jun 27, 2021

This is the second story of the night I've read that really resonated with me. I love that it was from the father's perspective and dealt with how postpartum depression can affect men. There is more in my head, but I think the heat is frying my brain right now, so I will stick with well done!

Reply

Shea West
16:48 Jun 27, 2021

Thanks Beth! I wanted to step outside the box and share from a male perspective here. I think I could go back and make some changes, but I'm a zombie myself so it'll either need to wait or I need some sleep!

Reply

Beth Connor
17:03 Jun 27, 2021

Haha, I forgot you are a fellow PNWer- I broke down and was going to buy an air conditioner, but they were all sold out...

Reply

Shea West
17:13 Jun 27, 2021

Don't hate me. But our manufactured home has a heat pump. So we have central air and heat. It was worth every penny.

Reply

Beth Connor
18:15 Jun 27, 2021

Jealous!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Beth Connor
15:57 Jul 02, 2021

: Happy Dance: for the shortlist!! YAY

Reply

Shea West
16:02 Jul 02, 2021

I'm without words, but very excited to see this one today!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
A.Dot Ram
05:07 Jun 26, 2021

Oof, this hits close to home and hits hard. I love that you went with "days are long" for the longest day. I don't know why I didn't think of this. It now seems like the only possible answer to the prompt. However, we did both have airplanes. The whole "you wanted/chose this" thing is propaganda. Nobody chooses to change sheets at 2am. People should extole the work parents do from the rooftops with more than lip service (Maybe I'm sensitive here?). You've portrayed a character who I think has had problems with anxiety and subtract abuse f...

Reply

Shea West
05:21 Jun 26, 2021

I actually wanted the reader to assume it was a woman at first! Because as you pointed out there a lot of assumptions and statistics too that say women more than men. I'd also agree that this character does notice a lot, perhaps more than most. I did this for a few reasons- I've noticed that partners/men have a lot of anxiety that presents so differently. Maybe because society says toxic masculinity is more acceptable than vulnerability? To me he is jobless, in the trenches of raising little kids and thinking "I have to be fine, what other ...

Reply

A.Dot Ram
16:33 Jun 26, 2021

I did suspect you wanted to subvert expectations with the character being a dad. I'm torn on when to reveal that. I did think the first big paragraph read as a masculine voice. People are complex, right? We all have lots of sides. Even if we got paid for doing this stuff (but we don't--"it's a privlege;" we're lucky), it would be hard to compensate someone enough for waking up multiple times a night and then functioning through a day. I've been in that same position worrying what if my brain learns this?

Reply

Shea West
16:49 Jun 27, 2021

I don't even worry anymore, my brain has just learned LOL

Reply

A.Dot Ram
21:25 Jun 27, 2021

😂

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
A.Dot Ram
15:24 Jul 02, 2021

Yes! Congratulations!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies